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Review: Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku)

(L-R) Ando Sakura, Matsuoka Mayu, Sasaki Miyu, Jyo Kairi and Lily Franky star in Magnolia Pictures' SHOPLIFTERS

Shoplifters isn’t the type of movie that we’re used to seeing in this day and age. Whenever films like this are made available for observation, I’m always ready to check them out. Not only can they be considered unique, but they carry a number of features with them that make you think about what you’ve just seen. While this doesn’t always make for quality viewing, it’s able to stimulate you in a way that few things can when it does accomplish its goals.

Shoplifting and other forms of petty crime are how Osamu (Lily Franky) and his family survive under their current conditions that have rendered them destitute. It doesn’t appear as if they have enough room to introduce another addition to the family, but that’s exactly what they decide to do after coming across a little girl standing in the freezing cold while finishing up their most recent shoplifting session. Once they bring her in, the begins to teach her the skills of the family business. This is just the latest adjustment they’ve had to make. In this world, change is constant.

Over the course of Shoplifters, we get the chance to examine the characters and the predicament that they currently exist in. Doing this allows these people to be the focal point while also giving us the chance to analyze what’s going on as we search for answers. During this period of attempting to figure things out, you also begin to care for them as humans even if you don’t know a whole lot about them.

What we do know pretty early on is that their central focus is predicated on money, possessions, and how they go about attaining those things so they can survive in their unforgiving world. As we see, it’s a daily struggle that speaks of the economic class during this period of time. This is the vast majority of the story that we get. We’re just watching these people live their lives the only way they seem to think they can.

As Shoplifters progresses, you come to realize that it wants you to question the morality of the actions that are being put on display. As I stated not too long ago, you don’t completely know who these people are, but you get to analyze their behavior, their way of life, and some of the details that come along with that. During this time, the film itself rarely ever casts judgment on these characters, so it’s kind of up to you to do that if you decide to do so.

Since that responsibility belongs to you exclusively, you may end up trying to figure things out on your own. As far as understanding the movie completely in the first couple of acts, there’s no real point in really attempting to do that. In a way, this is shaped and crafted similar to a mystery. There are small hints for us to grasp onto that could potentially shed light on what’s going on with these characters, but that’s all you’re going to get for the most part.

By the time it reaches the final act, all that we’ve been shown begins to come together in order for us to get most of the answers we were in search of. The fact that all of this takes its time to unwind and develop throughout the duration of the film is something that you’ll truly begin to notice when thinking back on what you’ve just watched. Once this happens, you’ll likely begin to see the movie with far more clarity when looking at the characters and their choices.

Almost everything that we get is delivered to us in a fashion that’s subtle and unveiled in a way that doesn’t allow the tone to change all that much. That’s odd when you consider what’s happening right before our eyes, but it’s also fitting since this is supposed to replicate a lifestyle that would be seen as normal from the perspectives of the people who are living this kind of existence. This makes Shoplifters feel more organic and stable. It also allows for our emotions to stir even though nothing here is changing in terms of its tone.

At this point, you may begin to realize that you’re not just watching Shoplifters, you’re experiencing it. You won’t only come to understand this while you’re watching, you will be certain of it afterward when examining everything that you’ve just witnessed. Once that happens, you’ll begin to understand just how much care was put into all that is placed in front of us without giving away crucial details too early.

From a purely cinematic perspective, it’ll be easy for most to gain an appreciation for all that Shoplifters hopes to achieve. It’s a piece of work that I can see most people responding to in a positive manner if they’re into things like this. Because it’s in a foreign language, it won’t get too much love from English speakers, but those of us who don’t mind will be thankful that we took a chance on this small movie out of Japan.

Rating: R

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu

Lily Franky
Ando Sakura
Jyo Kairi
Sasaki Miyu
Kiki Kirin
Matsuoka Mayu

Film Length: 121 minutes

Release Date: November 23, 2018 (U.S.)

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Country: Japan

  • 7.5/10
    Score - 7.5/10
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